MINIs Invade Helen, GA - 2008
by Shaun Johnson
Gathering at the Habersham Winery for a special tour given
by the winery owners specifically for the MINI event.
Officially dubbed in 2008 as “MINIs in Kleine Deutschland, USA” -- or as it translates into in English “MINIs in small Germany” -- because of Helen’s theme as a sleepy German hamlet, the February 23rd/24th 2008 regional MINI gathering started as a simple idea to get a few MINIs together from various clubs for a weekend retreat.
The idea quickly grew into a major southeast event which afforded MINI owners from all over South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee the opportunity to meet, fellowship, talk about their MINIs, and exchange ideas. An immense amount of credit must go to Carol Thomas of the MINI Motoring Club of the Carolinas (M2C2) for the idea and the planning that went into scheduling lodging and the itinerary of activities. In true “MINI Spirit,” others soon became involved to help get the word out and contribute items of interest to the event. Matt Hair, President of Lowcountry MINIs of Charleston and Service Advisor at MINIs of Charleston, arranged to have two MINI Clubmans brought to the Helen for everyone to see up close first-hand.
All of the clubs represented had members present that were interested in the Clubman and looking to purchase one. Shawn and Shannon Sears of Middle Georgia MINIs own two classic Minis, one being an original Clubman, and came to Helen specifi cally to see and evaluate the new MINI Clubman. They liked what they saw and will be contacting their nearest MINI dealer for more details.
Impromptu tour of the winery.
Saturday morning began with a group breakfast at Hofer’s of Helen, a nice little local café and bakery, and then a short drive to the Habersham Winery. The owners and staff of the local winery were excited to see so many MINIs in their parking lot that they graciously offered to conduct a special impromptu tour for the owners of the 35 MINIs that magically appeared on-site moments before. Everyone was taken through the “business” areas of the winery where Sid Benjamin explained how the grapes are crushed, their juices packaged in American and French oak barrels, aged in accordance to the type of wine and the barrel used, and then later chilled and bottled. It was truly amazing to see how the entire process worked and to attain a better understanding as to how that delicious bottle of wine came to be.
Afterwords the MINI owners were treated to a wine tasting and informed of the differences between of the various wonderful unique wines produced by the Habersham Winery. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many bottles of their fine wines were purchased that morning to be enjoyed later. It was truly a fantastic tour and a completely unexpected addition to the day’s itinerary, thanks to the pleasant and professional staff at Habersham Winery.
MINIs Motor through Helen on their way to Dillard.
Following the winery tour, the MINIs waved goodbye to Sid and his crew and began a caravan through the town of Helen on the way to Dillard, GA, to have lunch at the famous Dillard House restaurant and to enjoy the one hour scenic mountain drive. The streets were lined with tourists who basically stopped dead in their tracks to view the extensive line of MINIs that literally ran from one end of town to the other. Adults and children alike were smiling and waving as the MINIs rolled down the street on their way to Dillard and to navigate the twisting, curvy roads that lie in between.
The weather which was a major concern the day before had given way to exceptionally beautiful sunny skies with temperatures near or at 60 degrees, perfect weather for motoring with tops down and sunroofs open through mountain roads. It was apparent that the drive to Dillard was not going to be a disappointment and everyone was geared up to have a wonderful time; occasionally you could hear the anxious laughter of one of the MINI owners over the hand held radios being used to disseminate information regarding where to turn. As motoring progressed, radios were also useful in warning others of the occasional horse - drawn wagon that also use the area roadways as well. The twists and turns in the road were certainly no disappointment and everyone was having the time of their lives negotiating them as the caravan of MINIs made their way to their lunchtime destination.
Everyone was having a great time discussing their MINIs once parked in the Dillard House parking lot. Tales were shared of how each MINI handled on the road along the way and the future plans for modifications each had for their beloved MINI. The Dillard House was certainly no disappointment; the food was very good and extremely plentiful. Once the food was served, it became substantially quieter as the group indulged in their meals. Once everyone had their fill, it was again out into the parking area, where, unbeknownst to the group, caution had to be taken as the caravan departed in order to avoid the mud created from the rain the day before. Hidden under a thick layer of pine straw thick mud waited and soon took its first (and only) victim. Several fellow MINI enthusiasts came to the rescue and within minutes the once ensnarled MINI was free to motor once again.
The return trip from Dillard to Helen was equally enjoyable, many of those who were acting as “navigators” drove the return trip which ensured everyone had a chance to conquer the winding roads of the Georgia Mountains. Upon return everyone had an opportunity to get out and walk through the center of Helen and visit the various shops, ride in the horse-drawn carriages, and sample some of the local chocolate.
The evening began with the blind “White Elephant” charity auction where bids are made on an item identified by only a number, and the identity of that item is not known until after the winning bid is decided. It must be noted that this charity auction could not have been possible if it were not for the extremely generous and supportive MINI vendors who work so diligently to provide the quality products that make owning and modifying a MINI and feeding our obsession with them so much fun.
Shawn Sears of Middle Georgia MINIs works as the official auctioneer at the Helen
MINI charity auction raising money for the Speedway Children’s Charity (left),
while Art “Doc” Payne of M2C2 bids on one of the mystery items (right).
There was a tremendously wide range of items that were donated including vendor T-shirts, hats, a variety of MINI related books, magazine subscription certificates, bolt-on components, and the great vendor specific items that were included into the swag bags given out before the auction. Members from the various MINI clubs within the Southeast MINI Alliance (SMALL) also contributed items for the auction as well. A special thanks needs to be given to all of our great sponsors: Barry Brazier and MC2 Magazine, Ken Smith and Moss Motors, Aaron Cornaby and OutMotoring, Brent Breon and Mini Do More, Mini Mania, and Jeff and Scott Bibbee of Texas Speedwerks. The generous donations of our sponsors in addition to the generous bidding of the auction participants generated nearly $700 for the Speedway Children’s Charities, which is the official club charity of M2C2. Everyone involved had a great time and just goes to prove that the MINI culture is one of caring and exemplifies what it means to be a good motoring citizen. Following the charity auction, it was time for socializing, enjoying more good food, and to participate in a few pints of our favorite beverage at the Troll Tavern, located near the Helendorf River Inn. Talk of the memorable day’s events and the success of the charity auction made all involved feel like they were on cloud 9. Needless to say the conversations were focused on what would be in store for next year. The whole event would not have been possible if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of Carol Thomas of M2C2. She initiated the idea and began to solicit participation with a few members of regional clubs; in part she helped give birth to SMALL. As the first major event for SMALL, it was obvious that SMALL is a “big” success.